It can certainly be said that the backdrop for this Spring Statement wasn’t quite what the Chancellor would have hoped for. But it wasn’t quite the Statement that many thought the Chancellor would make.
With rising costs squeezing lower and middle earners across the country, many expected the Chancellor to focus on immediate support for those earners to reflect the challenges that many are facing. He certainly tried to address the areas that have been attracting the press’s attention, such as the 5p cut to fuel duty. However, the Chancellor largely used the opportunity offered to him to finally throw off the shackles of Covid and set out his stall as a Conservative tax-cutting Chancellor in the mould of Nigel Lawson.
The Chancellor was burnished with a fiscal windfall by the OBR but made the decision to focus spending on tax cuts. It will interest many that on one hand he simplified the tax system by bringing the National Insurance threshold in line with income tax, but then promised to cut tax income tax before the next election. To an extent, this was a Spring Statement with an eye on the next election. It is notable that earners will be paying more when National Insurance rises, but by cutting income tax, people with other sources of income such as rent will see their tax cut ahead of the next election.
The Party’s MPs will be pleased that the promised tax cuts will be structural and long term, taking 2.4 million people out of tax and again laying claim to the old George Osborne mantle of having an “economic plan”. But yet, there are still many more bumps on the road ahead for the Government. Major questions remain about the damage to the Conservative brand because of ‘partygate’, and the economic situation isn’t going to get much easier for many, certainly not in the short term.
On top of this, the ONS released its latest housing affordability figures for England and Wales shortly before the Chancellor made his speech. They do not make for happy reading. According to the ONS, full-time employees can typically expect to spend almost 10times their workplace-based annual earnings on purchasing a home, with house prices growing faster than earnings in 91% of local authority districts. The statistics and increasing affordability gap make grisly reading but reflects a really worrying reality for many young people who simply can’t afford a home, and it’s even more difficult to find one in their dream area.
It is easier in politics to pander to the short term, in this case, by appeasing so-called “NIMBYs” and staunch Conservative voters, but the Government is only kicking the can down the road. By ignoring younger voters, they are losing the chance at converting these voters into Conservatives in the long-term and exacerbating the many real problems these voters face and feel. The Government and Chancellor would be wise to turn their attention to this issue. It may be difficult, but if they are serious about the long-term future of this country, they should be prepared to face down some of their own voters.